After the series’ unfortunate outing in modern-day Mexico in 2011’s “The Cartel”, it’s no wonder people were less-than optimistic about the announcement that Call of Juarez would be going back to its old-west roots. With the oldest two games having not aged particularly well, and The Cartel having been such a disaster, there wasn’t much hope that Gunslinger would become anything more than a poor cash-in on the franchise’s name. Luckily, it turned out to be quite a bit more than that.
While Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is no love-letter to the Wild West like Red Dead Redemption, it does tell an interesting story. The story kicks off with a comic book-like intro cinematic of protagonist Silas Greaves, walking into a saloon. Upon making his name and occupation as a bounty hunter known, a crowd gathers around him, offers to buy him drinks, and pleads to be told the stories of his time hunting some of the most notorious criminals of the time. Players walk, run, and battle through his memories while he provides narration. As he narrates, his captive audience will often interject with questions, as well as disbelief.
This adds an interesting, but familiar flair to the game. Greaves will often add details into the story that he had forgotten, or will tell alternate versions of the story. While playing through a level and then having it rewound so it plays out differentially can be a bit discouraging since it delays the satisfaction of progression, it is an interesting layer to the game. One example of it is when Silas describes infiltrating a gold mine that bandits had taken over. you begin outside the mine, and he describes that the entrance was the most obvious route. So the player walks into the mine, and is urged to be careful while shooting, as the mine is full of TNT. After navigating through the mine, Silas goes on to say that the mine would have been a dead end, so he didn’t go that way. The game rewinds back to the entrance of the mine, the camera pans, and a ladder and some scaffolding materialize. The player then climbs down the ladder and completes the level’s objectives.
While it does tell an interesting story, and its means of telling its story is interesting, at its core Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a shooter, and does a fairly good job of that. While some of the elements around its shooting have a sort of cheap feeling to them, its core mechanics are solid, and more importantly fun. Shooting revolvers, rifles, and shotguns alike feel satisfying, and work incredibly well. In addition to that, like in past Call of Juarez games, players can briefly slow down time which gives them the ability to not only react faster than their foes — but to dole out increased damage with every bullet fired.
While the game is good fun, it falls short of greatness because of some glaring flaws. The most prominent of which being its boss battles. While the actual gunning-down of the most notorious criminals of the time are done through a quick-draw mini-game (see above ), every boss battle has you doing one of two things: Being in an arena while a boss fires at you from on elevated position. Or being in a valley with a boss who has a Gatling gun that you slowly get closer to every time he reloads. While these sorts of battles are fun the first time, the repetitiveness is quite tiring.
I also take issue with the game’s visual style. While I am typically a fan of the cel-shaded look, a great bulk of the game’s assets don’t match that style, often donning realistic-looking textures. These two distinct styles don’t mix very well at all. From a distance it looks alright, but once you get close up it’s not very appealing, and sort of hard on the eyes. Also — this is a bit of a departure, but bear with me — there is a bullet-dodging Quick-time event where time slows down and you have to spot which way a bullet is going to travel so you can dodge it. While often the quick-time event works well — and is a nice little break from the large gunfights — it wasn’t uncommon for the bullet to blend into the environment, making it virtually impossible for me to see; and being hit during this interaction is often fatal. It’s also worth noting that I ran into a fair amount of slow-down while playing on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
While Gunslinger has a fair amount of issues, I can still easily say it’s my favorite game from the Call of Juarez series. Despite the quibbles I had with it, it’s good fun, and easy to recommend given it’s $15 price-point. While you wont find a sprawling thoughtful tribute to the Wild West here, you’ll find a fun shooter with a pretty entertaining story. Heck, you may even learn a bit of history — I know I did.